HEADLINE: COMPANY NEWS;Judge Favors Apple Stand On Copyright
BYLINE: By ANDREW POLLACK, Special to The New York Times
DATELINE: SAN FRANCISCO, March 6
A Federal judge today dismissed two critical defenses offered by Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard in the software copyright-infringment lawsuit filed against them by Apple Computer Inc. The ruling could move the now three-year-old case closer to trial. Had the judge accepted the arguments by the Microsoft Corporation and the Hewlett-Packard Company, Apple's case would have been substantially weakened and might have been tossed out entirely.
But the decision, by Judge Vaughn R. Walker of the Federal District Court here, contained some elements that were not favorable to Apple. Each side claimed victory from the decision but agreed there was still a long way to go before the case was completely resolved.
Screen Display Technology
Apple contended that Microsoft's Windows 2.03 and Hewlett-Packard's New Wave programs violated copyrights held by Apple. The copyrights cover the screen display that has made Apple's Macintosh easy to use and has been largely responsible for its success in the marketplace.
The display, called a graphic user interface, allows users to accomplish tasks by pointing at symbols with an arrow on the screen and to display different documents on separate areas of the screen, or "windows."
Judge Walker rejected a request by Hewlett-Packard to declare Apple's copyrights invalid because such screen displays were first developed by the Xerox Corporation and were, therefore, not entitled to copyright protection as an original work. He also rejected an argument by Microsoft that portions of its program were covered by a license from Apple and could not be infringed.
"The impact of it is we're going to go to trial," said Edward B. Stead, Apple's vice president and general counsel, who said the company was pleased with the decision.
The ruling, however, does not say that a trial should be held, only that a conference will be held to determine the next phase of the case. No date for the conference has been set.
To Consider Specifics
But in another part of the decision, Judge Walker said he would not decide the issue of copyright infringement based on the "total concept and feel" of the Apple software compared to the Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard programs, but by looking at specific features of the programs that might infringe Apple's program. The ruling supports an argument Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard had made.
William Neukom, Microsoft's vice president of law and corporate affairs, said, "He agreed with Microsoft's basic approach that this ought to be done on a function-by-function basis, not some overall concept-and-feel notion."
The Macintosh user interface is considered a primary reason for Apple's success, but numerous companies are now imitating it. Microsoft has had huge success in the last year with Windows 3.0, a user interface for computers that uses its MS-DOS operating system. That threatens to cut out Apple's advantage in the market.
Apple's lawsuit is against Windows 2.03 and derivative products.